Analysis: ERCE 2019, a UNESCO call to improve educational quality in primary schools

The UNESCO study is presented at a key moment for the transformation of education in Guatemala, which has been affected by the pandemic in its routines, practices and, probably, in learning lags. The Latin American Laboratory for Educational Quality of UNESCO -LLECE- recently presented the results of the Regional Comparative and Explanatory Study of the factors that affect children’s learning -ERCE 2019. To analyze the results obtained by Guatemala, I would like to start with some initial premises:

First, the importance of having information about the learning of 3rd grade boys and girls. and 6th. primary education for the planning of learning recovery measures, as they indicate the pre-pandemic starting point, both in terms of learning outcomes in reading, mathematics and science, and in terms of the factors associated with those outcomes.

Second, the ERCE 2019, like the previous studies of the Laboratory, is not limited to evaluating the students but conducts complementary research with the different actors of the educational community, such as teachers, principals and parents, and on educational resources, educational policy measures that are implemented; In other words, it is a multidimensional study.

And, third, although a report is presented that gives an account of the learning situation at the regional level and thereby compares the results of the 16 participating countries, it is even more relevant to pay attention to the comparison of the results of our country with respect to to the previous study that was the TERCE and was presented in 2013.

In Guatemala, the ERCE reading and mathematics tests were administered in the second semester of 2019, to 5,393 third-grade students and 4,895 sixth-grade students from 234 public and private schools recognized by the Ministry of Education. The results obtained were lower than the regional average for the 2 grades and the 3 curricular areas evaluated. In this sense, it is important to consider that the fundamental learning evaluated constitutes the bases for the educational trajectory of the students at the secondary and higher education levels.

But the alert that should mobilize us is the one presented by the comparison between the results of the evaluation presented in 2019 compared to 2013, because the results are significantly lower than the previous evaluation, which means that we have not traveled a path improvement in educational quality but, in some way, it has been degrading over time. In this regard, it is inevitable to wonder about the programs and strategies aimed at improving learning in reading and mathematics and other curricular areas that, successfully implemented by different administrations of the Ministry of Education, national and international organizations. However, there is a lack of systematized information on the positive aspects and lessons learned from these initiatives, which would allow them to continue for adequate periods of time to make their learning results more concrete. In general, educational processes should be implemented in the medium and long term, evaluated and corrected on the fly, considering that they are training processes for people who are developing their potential and capacities. Long-term education plans, which cover processes of at least 20 years, are essential to strengthen educational quality.

On the other hand, the analysis offered by the ERCE study on the factors associated with learning achievements corroborates the great importance of reducing the gaps in educational inequities that affect, according to the results, students with socioeconomic disadvantages and students. that belong to indigenous peoples. These gaps are also manifested between public and private schools and in environments with differentiated socioeconomic conditions; that is, student results differ depending on what type of school they attend.

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As we know, pre-primary education is positive for learning at subsequent levels because it establishes important foundations in a particular period of life in terms of people’s cognitive, psychological and social development. Preschool coverage still does not reach half of Guatemalan children, which will have a negative impact on the subsequent learning of those who do not access this level. Likewise, the need to promote alternatives for detecting educational lag and leveling has been raised to avoid grade repetition that deeply penalizes boys and girls, with consequences on their learning, their socio-emotional health and, on occasions, in their stay in school.

In Guatemala, a cultural transformation is needed in the valuation of education from parents so that they promote their children to participate in school activities on a constant basis and with longer weekly periods of study. The ERCE shows the relationship of these factors with the results of the evaluations, as well as the importance of educational expectations in the family and the involvement of parents in educational activities. When girls and boys know that their parents’ expectations are high and they have their support and guidance, their school performance is better.

Regarding the school process and teaching practices, the ERCE 2019 shows the key role of teachers in the achievement of their students’ learning. These achievements are achieved when children perceive that their teachers have high expectations about their learning and are concerned about their well-being. The ERCE also shows that learning improves when teachers implement practices to support them, such as when they provide timely feedback, monitoring and motivating students, as well as when they adequately prepare their classes and create an appropriate climate for learning to take place.

* Article written by Lucía Verdugo, UNESCO national education officer.

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